Check It Out Category: Literary

Graphic Novel: Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Daytripper book cover“It’s a story about death.”
“Death?”
“It’s really about life…but death has a big part in it.”

Brás de Oliva Domingos makes his living writing obituaries. From the facts of death and the moments of life, he recreates stories. Sifting through the existences of others makes a man contemplate his own. What moments had greatest impact? Were they beginnings? Endings? Which choices led to one or the other? Rarely are those answers simple, and Daytripper is an ethereal, meditative exploration of possibilities.

Authors Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá gracefully lead readers back and forth within Brás’ life, illustrating key experiences and variations on his death. Though moments are heart-wrenching, the sum total is strangely uplifting, and what remains even after multiple scenarios is a sense of wonder at the meaning one life may hold.

Book Discussion Questions: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon book coverTitle:  Remembering Babylon
Author:  David Malouf
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary, Aboriginal Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-Provoking, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In the mid-1840s, a thirteen year old boy is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  What would you say this book is about?

2.  In what way does the introduction of an outsider/newcomer expose the true character of the community? of the individuals?

3.  What were the two initial reactions of the village? Were these responses understandable? What qualities do the two groups have in common?

4.  Describe what you know of Gemmy. How old did you imagine him to be? Who is he at heart? Is he intelligent? Did you sympathize with him? Did anything change your opinion of him?

5.  Was Gemmy an innocent? Why did he come in the first place? Do your answers affect your experience of the story in any way?

6.  From the opening scene, it seems as if Gemmy is the central character, but he later simply disappears. Does this mean he isn’t the focus of the story?

7.  How does the setting contribute to the story? Is this simply a historical account of Australia, or is there a universal element to the book? What is the implied relation between Gemmy’s fate and the progress of Australian history?

8.  In many ways, Janet is closest to Gemmy – the one who understands him, the one he most accepts. Janet is also the focus of several pivotal scenes. Why? What is the author attempting to say, for instance, in

a. her “growing-up” moment
b. the swarm of bees
c. the final scenes as a nun (with Lachlan)

9.  What story is being told with the other characters:

a. Jock McIvor?
b. Mr. Frazer?
c. George Abbot?
d. Mrs. Hutchence?

10.  How did Lachlan Beattie’s character contribute to the story? How did he change? Why do you think he was made a Minister of the government? Did his experiences with Gemmy contribute at all to this path?

11.  Gemmy is repeatedly called a “black-white man” or even “a parody of a white man”. How does the question of race and identity impact the situation? the story as a whole?

12.  What was it that the people feared?

13.  Though Malouf employs multiple points of view, he leaves the aboriginal characters as enigmas. Why might he have chosen to do this? If the aboriginies had never visited, would Gemmy’s treatment have eventually been the same anyway?

14.  How does Gemmy’s treatment by the aborigines both parallel and differ from his treatment by Englishmen?

15.  In your opinion, what became of Gemmy?

16.  Which scenes stand out as particularly impactful?

17.  What did you think of Janet’s statement near the end, “He was just Gemmy, whom we loved….”?

18.  Were you satisfied with the ending?

19.  Did Gemmy change the town or its people? How?

20.  What importance does the title add?

21.  What role does language (or the absence of it) play? Compare with Gemmy’s sense that the words in which Abbot transcribes his story contain “the whole of what he was”.

22.  What did you think of Malouf’s style? He is first a poet; was that evident? Was his non-linear narrative effective or distracting? What does he accomplish by telling his story from shifting points of view and by withholding critical revelations?

23.  Did you have difficulty with the use of dialect? Did this add to or detract from the plot / theme / book as a whole?

24.  Is there a message about colonization? What of the allusions to “dispersals”? What of the longing for connection in a vast, empty land?

25.  Is there a political commentary in Remembering Babylon? a moral one?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Author Colm Tóibín interviews David Malouf
The New York Times review of Remembering Babylon
Spotlight as winner of Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
Video interview from Sydney Writers’ Festival
Discussion questions from Reading Group Guides
Australia’s Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads

READALIKES:

That Deadman Dance book coverThat Deadman Dance
by Kim Scott

Rabbit-Proof Fence book coverRabbit-Proof Fence
by Doris Pilkington

Living book coverThe Living
by Annie Dillard

Staff Pick: In the Country by Mia Alvar

Picture of NancySummer is a wonderful time to pick up a collection of short stories.  I recommend Mia Alvar’s knockout debut, In the Country, which has been described by readers as dazzling, phenomenal, and stunning.  With a variety of characters as well as settings, these richly detailed stories capture the Filipino immigrant experience in an unforgettable way.

Winner of Both the Pulitzer Prize and the Edgar Award: The Sympathizer

Sympathizer book cover“So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead.”

In other media, award winners are often easily predicted.  Not so in literature. More often than not, even insiders are surprised by those given top honors in any given year, and rarely does it reflect sales or popularity. That changes upon announcement, as the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, debut novel The Sympathizerleapt in Amazon overall sales rankings from 27,587 to 88 overnight, even enjoying temporary status as #1 in Spies and Political Thrillers.

Viet Thanh Nguyen has penned a fascinating book of intrigue that examines the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of a double agent, and the author himself has said “my book has something to offend everyone.” It is a meaty, uncompromising story with moments of tenderness and even hilarity, and its new status as a Pulitzer winner may help earn the attention and audience it deserves.

Edited to add:  This week The Sympathizer was announced as winner of Best First Novel from the Edgar Awards, one of the top mystery and suspense honors. Few books can boast this crossover!

Audiobook: In Their Own Voices – A Century of Recorded Poetry

Century of Recorded Poetry audiobookEver wonder what Walt Whitman’s voice sounded like? Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, or e.e. cummings? In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry invites us to be ear-witnesses to history and art in its purest form. This collection of distinguished poets reading well-known works bares inflection, meaning, and musicality of crafted phrase.

These days we might prefer professionally-trained narrators and seamless productions, but there is illumination to be found in hearing even familiar lines read in the voices of those who dreamed them into existence. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month by listening to the natural cadences of William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, and a host of other extraordinary voices.

Book Discussion Questions: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Story of Edgar Sawtelle book coverTitle:  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author:  David Wroblewski
Page Count: 566 pages
Genre: Literary, Coming-of-Age, Domestic Saga
Tone:  Atmospheric, Lyrical, Haunting

Summary:
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar leads an idyllic life with his parents on their dog breeding farm in remote Wisconsin. When Edgar is forced to flee after the sudden death of his father, he must fight for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. Would you consider this a sad book? Did you enjoy the experience of reading this book?

2. When asked why he chose an unhappy ending, the author responded by referencing Franz Kafka:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? … we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

     What do you think about this perspective? Does it resonate with you – either with this book or with others?

3. The selection of this title as an Oprah’s Book Club pick certainly raised its profile. In your opinion, would this book have found an audience otherwise?

4. What was the purpose of the prologue?

5. Why was Schultz (the original landowner) given both backstory and recurring mentions?

6. How did you react to the character of Ida Paine?

7. Edgar’s youth is presented in a quick succession of snapshot details. Why spend little time here?

8. How would you characterize Edgar’s relationship with each of his parents?

9. How early do you think Claude had been plotting?

10. A frequent complaint is the length of the story. Did that bother you? Why would the author make that choice? What might be lost in cutting the story down? In your opinion, are there too many ideas for one book?

11. One seeming digression from the main plot is Edgar’s discovery of (and the detailed presenting of) the letters form Fortunate Fields. What did these letters reveal? Do you think this was an effective way to introduce this background and these ideas?

12. Did you note the epigraph by Charles Darwin? How might this, as well as the exploration of evolution and natural selection, inform the greater story?

13 “So a dog’s value came from the training and the breeding” – almost a nature vs. nurture compromise. How might this be reflected in the brothers Claude and Gar?

14. On specific occasions, the author emphasizes the word story. For example, as Edgar is reflecting on the detailed records, “Because the files, with their photographs, measurements…told them the STORY of the dog – what a dog MEANT, as his father put it.” How does this reflect back on the title of the book?

15. There’s no getting around the Hamlet references. Were there ones that you especially liked or found inventive or powerful? Any that were stretches? Any that you weren’t sure about?

16. Aside from the allusions, the story of Hamlet is never directly mentioned. In contrast, another book is frequently mentioned and even excerpted. What relevance does The Jungle Book have to this story?

17. Were you OK with the slight fantasy element of Gar’s appearances/interactions with Edgar?

18. What was the purpose of the story of Hachiko?

19. What is gained by Trudy’s voice being introduced half-way through? Did this make her more sympathetic? Would you have preferred this earlier? Not at all?

20. How would you describe the importance of Almondine? Did you like having her “voice”?

21. What is the role of Forte – both the first and the second? Do you think the first Forte was Gar’s dog or Claude’s?

22. What is accomplished in making Edgar mute? Why not deaf, too?

23. Why are words and names especially important to Edgar?

24. What did you think of Edgar’s time with Henry Lamb? In what ways is it significant?

25. Is this a book for dog lovers? How would you compare it to other books which feature dogs, especially those which give voice to the dog’s perspective?

26. Author Stephen King wrote, “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In the end, this isn’t a novel about dogs or heartland America, it’s a novel about the human heart and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate…. I don’t re-read many books because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.” What do you think? Will you be re-reading this book?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

author David Wroblewski on the book that made him a reader
Hachiko and the Sawtelle Dogs
The New York Times interview with author
profile of Wroblewski in Bloom, a site featuring first books from authors over 40
video of Wroblewski presenting at The Chautauqua Institution
NPR podcast The Book Tour spotlights The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LitLovers discussion guide
Oprah’s reader’s guide, including book club webcasts

READALIKES:

Art of Racing in the Rain book coverAquarium book coverDead Fathers Club book cover
    

The Art of Racing in the Rain  by Garth Stein

Aquarium  by David Vann

The Dead Fathers Club  by Matt Haig

Book Discussion Questions: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary book coverTitle:  Madame Bovary: Patterns of Provincial Life
Author:  Gustave Flaubert
Page Count: 430 pages
Genre: Literary, Classic
Tone:  Dramatic, Richly Detailed, Conflicted

Summary:
When Emma Rouault marries dull, provincial doctor Charles Bovary, her dreams of an elegant and passionate life crumble. She escapes into sentimental novels but finds her fantasies dashed by the tedium of her days. Soon heartbroken and crippled by debts, Emma takes drastic action with tragic consequences for her husband and daughter.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. In what ways is Emma Bovary the quintessential “desperate housewife”?

2. Is Emma believable as a real woman, rather than only as a literary character? How well does Flaubert portray the emotions of a woman?

3. What did you like about Emma? Did you need to like her? Did you understand her?

4. What paths did Emma try to find escape? In your opinion, is there anything that may have brought her lasting satisfaction or happiness?

5. What is Emma’s attitude toward motherhood? How do her attentions to Berthe change throughout the story?

6. Who is to blame for what happens to Madame Bovary?

7. What role does fate — or the mention thereof — play at significant points of Madame Bovary?

8. Was Emma victimized by Rodolphe?  How did her affair with Rodolphe differ from that with Leon? What do these differences reveal about Emma?

9. At which point(s) could Emma have turned back or changed course?

10. What did you think of Emma’s funeral arrangements? What would Emma have thought? Why did Charles make the choices he did?

11. Is Charles so bad? Couldn’t the very things that frustrate Emma about him be considered desirable in a steady partner?

12. Do you think Charles would have been as enamored of Emma had it not been for his first wife? How do they contrast?

13. Is the story claiming that Emma’s ruin was due to her reading of books?

14. The time between the onset of the French Revolution (1789) and WWI is often described as the era of the middle class. How is this central to the commentary of Madame Bovary?

15. Would you characterize this novel as a satire?

16. What does the character of Homais contribute to the narrative? What might he represent? What is the significance to the very end of the book?

17. This work has been noted for its ushering in a new age of realism in literature. Can you think of any examples of startlingly realistic events or descriptions?

18. Did it surprise you that a book entitled Madame Bovary actually begins and ends with others? Why do you think Flaubert makes those choices?

19. Madame Bovary is known for its controversial content, but it “is as heavily financial as it is erotic. It’s full of scenes of buying and selling, borrowing and lending. It’s not Emma’s adultery, but the financial debts she incurs, that disgraces her.” Does this characterization make it more timeless, more universal?

20. Do you consider this novel a work of feminist literature?  Could Emma have survived as a single woman?

21. “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” (Italo Calvino) What does Madame Bovary have to say?

22. How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?

23. Flaubert once famously declared, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi”. Given that their respective biographies have nothing in common, what do you think he meant by this?

24. Many point to the precision of Flaubert’s language choices, how the prose plods during descriptions of the townspeople or daily routine but then becomes more flowing and urgent during romantic interludes. Did you notice this at all? Do you think we lose some of the power of language in translation?

25. Does this read like a first novel?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Knee-Deep in Bovary with Lydia Davis, author of 2010 translation (pictured above)
author A.S. Byatt examines how Madame Bovary resonates today
Australian Broadcasting Network video book club
Slate’s DoubleX Audio Book Club discussion of Madame Bovary
Top Ten Works by French Authors
Encyclopaedia Brittanica biography of Gustave Flaubert
critique of two recent film adaptations
read, listen, or watch via hoopla

READALIKES:

Madame Bovarys Daughter book coverThe Awakening book coverVanity Fair book cover
    

 

 

 

 

 

Madame Bovary’s Daughter  by Linda Urbach
The Awakening  by Kate Chopin
Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero  by William Makepeace Thackeray

Eclectic Books by Europa Editions

Europa!
europa collage

Known for its distinctive bold covers, Europa Editions is an Italian press that has been taking America by storm. From its website: “The Europa catalog is eclectic, reflecting the founders’ belief that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate but also to inform and enlighten.”


Find a book that interests you!

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price
Cooking with Fernet Branca
Replay

 

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones

Wilfred Price, overcome with emotion on a sunny spring day, proposes to a girl he barely knows at a picnic. The girl, Grace, joyfully accepts and rushes to tell her family of Wilfred’s intentions. But by this time Wilfred has realized his mistake. He does not love Grace. On the verge of extricating himself, Wilfred’s situation suddenly becomes more serious when Grace’s father steps in. As Wilfred struggles in an increasingly tangled web of expectation and duty, love and lies, Grace reveals a long-held secret that changes everything.

Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

Gerald Samper, an effete English snob, has his own private hilltop in Tuscany, where he wiles away his time working as a ghostwriter for celebrities and inventing wholly original culinary concoctions. Gerald’s idyll is shattered by the arrival of Marta, on the run from a crime-riddled former soviet republic. A series of hilarious misunderstandings brings this odd couple into ever closer and more disastrous proximity.

Replay by Marc Levy
On the morning of July 9, 2012, New York Times investigative reporter Andrew Stilman is jogging alongside the Hudson River when he feels a sudden, sharp pain in his lower back. He collapses in a pool of blood. When he regains consciousness, it’s May 7–two months earlier. Stilman now has only sixty days to find out who wants him dead and why until his killer finds him again.

 The Days of Abandonment book cover
A Novel Bookstore book cover
The Life of Elves book cover

 

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Once an aspiring writer, Olga traded literary ambition for marriage and motherhood; when Mario dumps her after 15 years, she is utterly unprepared. Though she tells herself that she is a competent woman, nothing like the poverella (poor abandoned wife) that mothers whispered about in her childhood, Olga falls completely apart.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse

A mysterious death, unusual car accident, and anonymous threats have one thing in common– the victims are all members of the Good Novel bookstore’s secret selection committee. Set in Paris, this tale combines mystery, romance, and French theology and literature.

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery tells the story of two children whose extraordinary talents will bring them into contact with magical worlds and malevolent forces. If, against all odds, they can be brought together, their meeting may shape the course of history.

See more titles on our Pinterest board!

Three to Try: Meet Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison author photo

The lushly talented Toni Morrison does not lack for award recognition.  Among her many honors are the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1988), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012). This month she adds one more, the PEN/Saul Bellow for Achievement in American Fiction, for work which the panel calls “revelatory, intelligent, bold.” If you haven’t yet been introduced, attempting to begin with the well-recognized but difficult Beloved or Song of Solomon might be challenging. Allow us to suggest three alternate pathways to make her acquaintance.

God Help the Child book coverGod Help the Child

A searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love.

Why start here? Morrison’s most recent work, and her first set in current time, underscores many of her trademark themes in a concise but powerful 178 pages.

Sula book coverSula

Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. Nel and Sula meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret, but will it withstand a betrayal?

Why start here? Another short work (174 p.), this is a deceptively simple narrative about a character who overcomes tragedies to reinvent herself as a bold, sensual, unapologetic individual at a time when women were expected to know their places.

Jazz book coverJazz

Set in 1926, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Jazz follows the lives of Joe and Violet Vace, who have moved from the South to escape the hardships of segregation. They find a city throbbing with the music that represents both artistic freedom and moral decline, an environment that sets the backdrop for Joe’s murder of his teenage lover as well as the shocking events that follow.

Why start here? Slightly longer (229 p.), but still a richly compact sampling of Morrison’s skill in depicting complicated characters and emotions in few, expertly chosen words.  The influence of jazz music suffuses both setting and structure, and the themes reverberate long after the final note.